Thursday, 20 August 2009

Closure of Uist range would cost millions

Complete with bagpiper (a great gent from Kintail) the Hebrides Range Taskforce handed in their case against the closure of the missile testing facility on South Uist to Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence yesterday:

From the Herald 21/08/09

Closing the Hebrides missile range with loss of 125 jobs would seriously undermine the UK’s strategic defence interest and cost the Treasury £12.4m in terms of lost revenue, taxes and benefits for the knock-on effects on the fragile islands economy, according to the community taskforce campaigning against the defence cuts.

In a document arguing that the plans by Qinetiq, the civilian contractor running the base in South Uist, are "flawed" the taskforce presents a highly technical defence and economic case for retaining and expanding the Hebrides Range as the largest and most versatile live firing test facility in Europe.

The campaigners, who delivered their response to the closure case to Whitehall yesterday, hope they can shunt a ministerial decision into the MoD’s strategic defence review where it can be argued that the missile testing range is a unique defence asset that relies on community support for its successful operation.

Delivering the document to the MoD yesterday morning councillor Angus Campbell, leader of the Western Isles Council, insisted they were not involved in "emotional" plea bargaining. The council estimates that the regeneration costs of replacing jobs, attracting new residents and maintaining essential services to the islands will be an additional £10m to £15m.

"We’ve put a lot of time into this and we think the facts speak for themselves. The impact of these proposals will be not only catastrophic for the islands but bad for the UK in general," said Mr Campbell. "From a defence point of view we will be in a much worse off for the sake of saving a few pounds from an individual budget. It will cost much more in terms of a reduced defence capability."

The taskforce estimate that Qinetic’s projected saving of £3m a year by moving range operations to Aberporth in Wales are unproven and would not deliver until 2019. The remote control solution proposed by Qinetiq is also questioned.

The range extends westwards into the Atlantic from South Uist and includes a manned tracking station on the island of St Kilda, a UNESCO double World Heritage Site. The taskforce argue maintaining the island would prove an expensive millstone to the government if Qinetic automated their facility on the remote archipelago.

"The St Kilda factor is important in that you can track missiles way out into the Atlantic and track more than one missile at a time, when you lose that capability you limit the range," said Mr Campbell. "Also St Kilda is a double world heritage site has relied on the army to support it in terms of logistics. There is a huge bill for St Kilda that will fall on another part of government and there is also the question of restoration. In 1996 that was estimated at £10 to £15 m and it would be much more today. "

Angus MacMillan the chairman of Storas Uibhist, the community landlord on South Uist, said the effect of losing 125 jobs in the islands would be the equivalent to 30,000 jobs in Glasgow and would reduce UK defence capacity.

"There will be a huge reduction in capability by moving command and control from the Hebrides to Wales, therefore putting UK defence capability at risk," said " The missiles will not be tested to the same extent and it will be a dis-service to the armed forces. These proposals have not been discussed with their clients including the RAF and Navy, so there are flaws in their consultation, flaws in the savings that will be realised and flaws in what they say is going to be left of the capability."

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